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December 21st

Born: Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, 1117, London; John Kepler, distinguished astronomer, 1571, Weil, Wűrtemberg.

Died: Giovanni Boccaccio, celebrated tale-writer, 1375, Certaldo; Maximilien, Duke of Sully, minister of Henri IV, 1641, Villebon; Catherine of Braganza, queen of Charles II of England, 1705, Lisbon; James Harris, author of Hermes, 1780; Arnauld de Berquin, author of L'Ami des Enfants, 1791, Paris; Rev. Dr. Harris, author of Mammon, The Great Teacher, &c., 1856, London.

Feast Day: St. Thomas, apostle. St. Edburge, virgin, 9th century.

ST. THOMAS DAY     (mp3 Version)

The festival of St. Thomas was instituted in the twelfth century, and, as an old author alleges, was assigned an early place in the ecclesiastical calendar from this apostle having been vouchsafed the most indisputable evidence of the resurrection. In pictorial art, St. Thomas is represented holding a builder's square, and in accordance with the following legend, he is regarded as the patron saint of architects and builders. When St. Thomas was at Caesarea, our Lord appeared unto him, and said: 'The king of the Indies, Gondoforus, hath sent his provost, Abanes, to seek for workmen well versed in the science of architecture, who shall build for him a palace finer than that of the emperor at Rome. Behold now, I will send thee to him.' And St. Thomas went, and Gondoforus commanded him to build a magnificent palace, and gave him much gold and silver for the purpose. The king went to a distant country, and was absent for two years; and St. Thomas, meanwhile, instead of building a palace, distributed all the treasures intrusted to him among the poor and sick; and when the king returned he was full of wrath, and commanded that St. Thomas should be seized and cast into prison, while he meditated for him a horrible death. Meantime, the brother of the king died, and the king resolved to erect for him a magnificent tomb; but the dead man, after that he had been dead four days, suddenly rose, sat upright, and said to the king:

'The man whom thou wouldst torture is a servant of God; behold, I have been in Paradise, and the angels chewed unto me a wondrous palace of gold, silver, and precious stones; and they said: This is the palace that Thomas the architect has built for thy brother King Gondoforus.'

And when the king heard those words, he ran to the prison, and delivered the apostle, and then St. Thomas said to him: 'Knowest thou not that they who would possess heavenly things have little care for the goods of this world! There are in heaven rich palaces without number, which were prepared from the beginning of the world for those who purchase the possession thereof through faith and charity. Thy riches, 0 king, may prepare thy way to such a place, but they cannot follow thee thither.' Like many other of the old saintly legends, this was never meant or assumed to be a matter-of-fact relation, but simply a parable or religious fiction, invented for the instruction of the people, and rendered the more impressive and striking by an exalted apostle being made the hero of the tale.

It is said that after the dispersion of the apostles, St. Thomas preached the gospel to the Medes, Persians, Bactrians, Ethiopians, and Indians, among the latter of whom he suffered martyrdom at Melapoor, and was buried in a church, which he had caused to be erected in that city. Marco Polo, who travelled in the thirteenth century, says: ' In that province of Malabar, is the body of the glorious martyr St. Thomas, the apostle, who there suffered martyrdom. It rests in a small city, not frequented by many merchants, because unsuited for the purposes of commerce; but, from devotional motives, a vast number both of Christians and Saracens resort thither. The Christians who perform this pilgrim-age collect earth, which is of a red colour, from the spot where he was slain, and reverentially carry it away with them, often employing it afterwards in miracles, and giving it with water to the sick, by which many disorders are cured. A variety of miracles are daily performed at the tomb of St. Thomas, through the interposition of the blessed apostle.'

Sir John Mandeville, in his travels, describes the same country as 'a great kingdom containing many fair cities and towns. In that kingdom lies the body of St. Thomas the apostle in flesh and bone, in a fair tomb, in the city of Calamy; for there he was martyred and buried. But men of Assyria carried his body into Mesopotamia, into the city of Edessa; and afterwards he was brought thither again. And the arm and the hand that he put to our Lord's side, when he appeared to him after his resurrection, is yet lying in a vessel without the tomb. By that hand they there make all their judgments. For, when there is any dissension between two parties, and each of them maintains his own cause, both parties write their causes on two bills, and put them in the hand of St. Thomas; and, anon, the hand casts away the bill of the wrong cause, and holds still the bill with the right cause, and therefore men come from far countries to have judgments of doubtful causes.'

The accompanying engraving, from an illumination in an ancient manuscript of Mandeville's travels, preserved in the Bibliothèque Imperiale of Paris, represents the judgment of St. Thomas. And if the story be considered incredible, the writer can only quote Mandeville's own lines addressed to unbelievers thus:

'If scanty be my laud and praise,
And witless folk should call me liar,
For that my hook contains strange lays,
I will not storm nor burst with ire.
Let him who credits not my tales,
Travel as far as I have been,
Then, may he tell if truth prevails,
In what I say that I have seen.'

St. Thomas's Day falls on the winter solstice, the shortest day in the year, as expressed in the following couplet:

'St Thomas gray, St. Thomas gray,
The longest night and the shortest day.'

In some parts of the country the day is marked by a custom, among poor persons, of going a gooding, as it is termed—that is to say, making the round of the parish in calling at the houses of their richer neighbours, and begging a supply either of money or provisions to procure good things, or the means of enjoying themselves at the approaching festival of Christmas. From this circumstance St. Thomas's Day is in some places designated 'Doleing Day,' and in others 'Mumping [begging] Day.' In Warwickshire, the custom under notice used to be called going a corning, from the poor people carrying with them a bag in which they received a contribution of corn from the farmers.

By a correspondent of Notes and Queries, in 1857, we are informed that the custom of 'Gooding' exists in full force in Staffordshire, where not only the old women and widows, but representatives from every poor family in the parish, make their rounds in quest of alms. The clergyman is expected to give a shilling to each person, and at all houses a subsidy is looked for either in money or kind. In some parts of the same county a sum of money is collected from the wealthier inhabitants of the parish, and placed in the hands of the clergyman and churchwardens, who on the Sunday nearest to St. Thomas's Day, distribute it in the vestry under the name of ' St. Thomas's Dole.' We learn also from an-other communication of the writer just quoted, that at Harrington, in Worcestershire, it is customary for children on St. Thomas's Day to go round the village begging for apples, and singing

'Wassail, wassail, through the town,
If you've got any apples, throw them down;
Up with the stocking, and down with the shoe,
If you've got no apples, money will do;
The jug is white and the ale is brown,
This is the hest house in the town.'

In return for the alms bestowed during these 'gooding' peregrinations, it was customary for the recipients, in former times, to present to their benefactors a sprig of holly or mistletoe. A liberal dole was distributed at the 'great house,' or the mansion of the principal proprietor in the parish; and at the kitchens of all the squires and farmers' houses, tankards of spiced-ale were kept for the special refection of the red-cloaked old wives who made in procession these foraging excursions on St. Thomas's Day. It is said that the hospitality shewn on such occasions proved sometimes rather overpowering, and the recipients of this and other charitable benefactions found themselves occasionally wholly unable to find their way back to their own habitations, having been rendered, through the agency of John Barleycorn, as helpless as the ' Wee bit Wilkie' immortalised in Scottish song.

THE 'ADVENT IMAGES' AND THE 'VESSEL-CUP.'

In connection with the practice of 'going a gooding' on St. Thomas's Day, described in the foregoing article, an account may here be given of a kindred custom which appears not yet to be extinct—that of the 'Advent Images.' These are two dolls, dressed the one to represent the Saviour, and the other the Virgin Mary, and during the week before Christmas they are carried about the country by poor women, who, in return for their exhibition, expect a halfpenny, which it is considered as insuring the height of ill-luck to deny. The following carol is sung on the occasion by the bearers of the images:

The first good joy that Mary had, it was the joy of one,
To see her own son Jesus to suck at her breast-bone;
                        It brings tidings of comfort and joy!

The next good joy that Mary had, it was the joy of two,
To see her own son Jesus to make the lame to go.
                                                     It brings, &c.

The next good joy that Mary had, it was the joy of three,
To see her own son Jesus to make the blind to sec.
                                                     It brings, &c.

The next good joy that Mary had, it was the joy of four,
To see her own son Jesus to read the Bible o'er.
                                                     It brings, &c.

The next good joy that Mary had, it was the joy of five,
To see her own son Jesus to make the dead alive.
                                                     It brings, &c.

The next good joy that Mary had, it was the joy of six,
To see her own son Jesus to bear the crucifix!
                                                     It brings, &c.

The next good joy that Mary had, it was the joy of seven,
To see her own son Jesus to wear the crown of Heaven.
                                                     It brings, &c.'

This custom is also termed going about with a 'vessel-cup,' and the performers are styled 'vessel-cup singers.' The word 'vessel-cup' is evidently a corruption for 'wassail-cup,'and denotes the wish expressed on the occasion for the health and happiness of the party who bestows his charity on the exhibitor of the images. It may here be stated that in Yorkshire only one image used to be carried about—that of the Saviour, which was placed in a box surrounded by evergreens, and such flowers as could be procured at the season. The party to whose house the figure was carried was at liberty to take from the decorations of the image a leaf or a flower, which was carefully preserved, and regarded as a sovereign remedy for the toothache! The following was one of the stanzas of the quaint old carol sung by the old women who carried the image:

'God bless the master of this house,
    The mistress also,
And all the little children
    That round the table go.'

Not only was it considered peculiarly unlucky to refuse the tribute claimed by the image-bearer, but it was even deemed an augury of bad fortune if any household was not visited by the 'Advent Images' before Christmas Eve at the latest. The expression, 'As unhappy as the man who has seen no Advent Images,' was at one time proverbial in Yorkshire.

CATHERINE OF BRAGANZA 

Many other women besides queens live miserable lives, but the insignificant possess one advantage over those nobler born—their sufferings are unobserved and uncommented on. The woman of rank is a subject for perpetual remark among those of her own class, the journals of the day keep the public well informed as to the minutest particulars of her history, and the rabble at the corners of every street shrug their shoulders as she passes.

Catherine of Braganza, the wife of Charles II, began life under favourable auspices. Reared in a palace, beautiful, possessed of ample dowry, the daughter of one king and the wife of another, loving her husband devotedly, and not herself unpleasing in his eyes, she must have cast no unhopeful glance into the future; yet at that very minute, fortune's wheel was turning. Twenty-three miserable years awaited her, each one worse and more hopeless than the one which preceded it. The neglect of the king, the scorn of his mistresses, the plots of courtiers, and the laughter of the world, combined to make the childless Catherine the most wretched of all women in her own gay and dissolute court.

Queen Catherine was born on the Festival of St. Catherine, the 25th of November, in the year 1638. She arrived at Portsmouth in May 1662, where Charles was waiting to receive her. The marriage-ceremony was performed privately by the archbishop of Canterbury, and also a second time, with greater secrecy, according to the Romish ritual; for the queen, who was a stanch Catholic, did not hold the first bond to be valid. After staying some weeks at Hampton Court, she made her public entry into London on the 23rd of August.

'The queen,' says Evelyn, 'arrived, with a train of Portuguese ladies, in their monstrous fardingales, or guard-infantas; their complexions olivader, and sufficiently disagreeable: her majesty in the same habit; her foretop long, and turned aside very strangely. She was yet of the handsomest countenance of all the rest, and, though low of stature, prettily shaped; languishing and excellent eyes; her teeth wronging her mouth by sticking a little too far out; for the rest, lovely enough.'

Many queens have arrived in England to be hated from the first moment of their appearance, but it was not so with Catherine. Charles had not made the first advances. The king of Portugal, having with difficulty recovered his crown out of the hands of Spain, found the same difficulty in retaining possession of it. Cromwell had driven him to great straits, in revenge for assistance which he extended to Charles I. France, an old ally, had recently abandoned him. Thus, by proposing a marriage between Charles II and the Infanta, he hoped to establish his power. On the other hand, Charles found the marriage profitable. He procured for England the possession of two important islands, and for himself the acceptable present of £500,000. All this was in the usual course of things. But the Infanta was pretty and agreeable, and a good Catholic, and Charles good-naturedly took a liking to her; and in this it was that her reception differed from that of Queen Caroline, or Anne of Cleves.

But twenty-three years of annoyance embittered the remembrance of their pleasant days. Charles, by wit and neglect, by urbanity and threats, broke her into her position; so that, from having treated his mistresses with disdain and resentment, she learned to endure them with coldness, and saw the Duchess of Cleveland a lady of the bed-chamber with patience. Despair prompted at length a sacrifice of self-respect, and she made them friends and confidantes; and finally, says Burnet, 'she went about masked, and came into houses unknown, and danced there, with a great deal of wild frolic.'

Strange to say, Charles never seems to have entertained any serious ill-feeling towards her, though we generally hate those whom we injure. He rejected, with disgust, the offer of Buckingham to carry her off to the West Indies, and procure a divorce on the plea of desertion, and despised the insinuations and charges of several who accused her of plotting with the Jesuits to take the king's life. And when he was on his death-bed, and the queen, whose grief drove her to distraction, asked pardon of her husband, if by any chance she had ever offended him, she gained at last this one poor consolation:

'Alas, poor woman,' he exclaimed, 'she beg my pardon! I beg hers with all my heart.'

Catherine survived the Revolution, remaining in England till the arrival of the Prince of Orange, and ultimately died at Lisbon on 21st December 1705.

THE MAIMING OF SIR JOHN COVENTRY  

A strange scene was enacted in London on the night of the 21st December 1669. Near Suffolk Street were assembled fifteen or twenty of his majesty's guards, mounted and unmounted, under the command of Sir Thomas Sands and the son of the Earl of Inchiquin. From ten o'clock to two, they waited impatiently for the coming of Sir John Coventry, whom they expected to pass on his way home from the tavern at which he supped. At length he came, and divining their hostile purpose at a glance, Sir John snatched a flambeau from his servant, and drawing his sword, placed his back against the wall, and bravely defended himself with both weapons. He succeeded in disabling O'Brian and some others of his assailants, but was forced to succumb to superior numbers. After they had disarmed him, the cowardly crew threw him down, and cutting his nose to the bone, left him.

This atrocious outrage was perpetrated in accordance with the orders of the Duke of Monmouth, Coventry's professed friend; but the actual instigator was Charles II himself. In a parliamentary committee of Ways and Means, a motion had been made:

'That towards the Supply, every one that resorts to any of the Playhouses who sits in the boxes, shall pay Is.; every one who sits in the pit, shall pay 6d.; and every other person, 3d.'

This was opposed by the court-party, on the ground that the players were the king's servants, and a part of his pleasure. Whereupon Sir John Coventry pertinently, but indiscreetly, asked: Whether the king's pleasure lay among the men or the women that acted?' This was touching Old Rowley too nearly to be pleasant, and it did not need much argument to persuade Charles, that if the offence was allowed to pass unpunished, reflections on royal weaknesses would become dangerously common. And so the king, forgetful of obligations incurred by the fugitive Charles Stuart, determined to make an example of Coventry, and carried out his resolve despite the remonstrances of his brother.

Bold Andrew Marvell could not let his pen lie idle upon such an event. In his Instructions to a Painter, he says:

While the king of France with powerful arms,
Gives all his fearful neighbours strange alarms,
We, in our glorious bacchanals, dispose
The humbled fate of a plebeian nose.
Which to effect, when thus it was decreed,
Draw me a champion mounted on a steed;
And after him a brave brigade of horse
Armed at all points, ready to reinforce
His; this assault upon a single man.

* * * * *

'Tis this must make O'Brian great in story,
And add more beams to Sands's former glory.'

Parliament was furious at the indignity offered to one of its members on the very night after its adjournment, and made it the first subject for consideration upon re-assembling. The result of their deliberations was the passing of an act banishing the principal actors in the affair, with a special clause rendering them incapable of receiving the royal pardon; while to prevent a recurrence of the offence, the cutting, maiming, and disfiguring of any man was made felony without benefit of clergy, and punishable with death. The Coventry Act, as it was called, remained on the statute-book till the year 1828, when it was repealed.

It is a curious circumstance that Pepys records the fact of Sir William Coventry, uncle to Sir John, meditating, about nine months previous to the outrage on his nephew, a similar revenge to that taken by Charles. Sir William fancied that Killigrew intended to bring him upon the stage; and he accordingly gave the dramatist to under-stand that if any of his actors ' did offer anything like representing him, that he would not complain to my Lord Chamberlain, which was too weak, nor get him beaten as Sir Charles Sedley is said to have done, but that he would cause his nose to be slit.'

THE HALCYON DAYS

The seven days preceding, and the seven days following the shortest day, or the winter-solstice, were called by the ancients the Halcyon Days. This phrase, so familiar as expressive of a period of tranquillity and happiness, is derived from a fable, that during the period just indicated, while the halcyon bird or king-fisher was breeding, the sea was always calm, and might be navigated in perfect security by the mariner. The name halcyon is derived from two Greek words: the sea & to conceive; and, according to the poetic fiction, the bird was represented as hatching her eggs on a floating nest, in the midst of the waters. Dryden thus alludes to the notion:

'Amidst our arms as quiet you shall be,
As halcyons brooding on a winter's sea.'

December 22nd

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